ACLU files suit seeking recognition of out-of-state marriages

By : Staff Report
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Committed, married same-sex couples shouldn’t have to choose between equality and living in their home state. At least that’s how one of eight same-sex couples who filed a lawsuit in federal court along with support from the American Civil Liberties Union feels.

The suit, filed March 12, challenges the State of Florida’s refusal to recognize each of the couples’ marriages, which were all legally conducted in states with marriage equality. With the fall of DOMA last summer, each one is now also recognized on a federal level.

“Each of these couples has their own story of how the state’s discriminatory refusal to recognize their marriages has impacted their lives,” said Daniel Tilley, LGBT rights attorney for the ACLU of Florida. “These eight couples have all the rights and responsibilities of marriage in the states where they exchanged vows, and the federal government recognizes their marriages as well. It’s time for Florida to stop the harmful practice of treating committed couples as if they are strangers.”

Among the couples present for the announcement of the lawsuit were Sandra Jean Newson and Denise Hueso.

“Our wedding day was the happiest day of our lives, knowing that we were not only committing ourselves to one another but to protecting each other’s future, and yet, here in our home state, the law treats us as strangers,” stated Newson. “When we moved back to Florida we knew we would be sacrificing some of the rights that we’d enjoyed when we lived in Massachusetts. Most families don’t have to choose between being in the place they call home and having equal treatment under the law, and they shouldn’t have to. If Florida would recognize our marriage, we wouldn’t have to either.”

Newson is the a vice president at an agency that works to provide housing for formerly-homeless individuals, and Hueso is a clinical care coordinator at the Alliance for GLBTQ Youth. The couple has a 15-year-old adopted child.

Besides Newsom and Hueso, the seven other married couples represented in the case inlcude: Lindsay Myers, a radio digital content producer, and her wife Sarah Humlie, the Executive Director of the Pensacola Humane Society; Chuck Hunziger and Bob Collier, both military veterans, who have been together for more than 50 years and live in Fort Lauderdale; Juan Del Hierro, the Director of Ministry Empowerment for Unity on the Bay, and Thomas Gantt, Jr., a teacher, who live in Miami and have a 14 month-old son; Christian Ulvert, a political consultant, and Carlos Andrade, a media director, who married in Washington, DC in 2013 and are interested in raising a family; Richard Milstein, a family law attorney, and Eric Hankin, a Miami public school teacher, who have been together 12 years; Robert Loupo, a Miami-Dade Public Schools counselor, and John Fitzgerald, retired, who have been together 12 years; Sloan Grimsley, a firefighter from Palm Beach Gardens, and her wife Joyce Albu, a consultant assisting parents of children living with developmental disorders.

Grimsley and Albu are seeking protections for their children, the youngest of whom is two years old. Sloan and Joyce have been together for 9 years and were married in August of 2011 in New York. The couple is concerned that if something were to happen to Sloan in the line of duty, Joyce would not receive the support the State offers to spouses of first responders who make the ultimate sacrifice, and thus, would struggle to provide for their family’s needs.
“I’m proud of the work that I do protecting my community, but the law in Florida doesn’t let me protect my own family,” said Grimsley. “We just want the peace of mind of knowing that those vows we took to care for one another aren’t dependent on where we are.”

Also named as a plaintiff is SAVE, formerly known as SAVE Dade, a South Florida-based organization that works to achieve rights and protections for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

“All around the country, loving couples enjoy the rights and responsibilities that come with a marriage fully recognized by their state, and it’s time Florida couples enjoyed that as well,” said Tony Lima, Executive Director of SAVE. “Why should couples who commit to love and care for one another lose protections for that relationship when they return to Florida? As representatives of the South Florida LGBT community, we believe all Floridians’ marriages deserve the same dignity and respect and stand proudly with the other plaintiffs in saying that the protections embodied by the promise of marriage shouldn’t disappear based on where you are.”

The ACLU of Florida, SAVE, and several of the couples addressed the media the morning after the filing at a press conference at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, joined by leaders from the LGBT community.

The lawsuit names Governor Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Florida Surgeon General and Secretary of Health John H. Armstrong, and Secretary of the Florida Department of Management Services Craig J. Nichols as defendants in their official capacities. It was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida. Plaintiffs are represented by attorneys for the ACLU and the ACLU of Florida, as well as Stephen Rosenthal of the Podhurst Orseck law firm.

“Our historic victory in last year’s Supreme Court case striking down DOMA means that many loving and committed Floridians have marriages that are recognized by the federal government,” stated ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon.

“Sadly, Florida refuses to recognize those marriages, often at significant cost to their families. The time has come for Florida to end its discrimination against same sex couples, including those whose marriages are legally recognized elsewhere in our country and by the federal government.”

The lawsuit comes just more than a month after Equality Florida filed a suit on behalf of other couples seeking the right to marry in Florida.

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